World number one Aryna Sabalenka grabbed a 6-2 3-5 lead over fourth-ranked Elena Rybakina and boosted her chances of securing a semifinal berth at the WTA Finals in Cancun before play was suspended due to rain on Thursday night. The Belarusian swept the opening set against the big-serving Kazakh and was about to serve for the second when rain interrupted after 11:30 pm local time. Organizers decided to cancel the remainder of the match and push back the resumption until Friday afternoon.
Earlier, Sabalenka powered past Greek Maria Sakkari in straight sets but struggled to find her best tennis against an inspired Jessica Pegula. Pegula, who lost to Sabalenka in the Australian Open final in January, is now 3-0 at the end of the group stage. She can guarantee herself a semifinal berth by beating Sabalenka on Friday. Rybakina has a 2-1 record and will also advance with a win against the American, assuming she won’t be beaten by another qualifier in her other match.
After a shaky start to the year, Sabalenka has made a significant impact in her first season as the world’s top player. She’s already reached three central singles semifinals and is looking to become only the third woman in history to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in her debut season at No. 1.
The 23-year-old can finish the 2023 season as the No. 1 seed with two more round-robin wins. But, despite her early success in Cancun, she still has plenty to improve upon as she heads into the weekend.
Sabalenka, who will play the winner of Rybakina and Pegula in the semifinals, has said she doesn’t support her country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, because of his backing for Russia’s war in Ukraine. She also criticized his handling of the crisis in neighboring Poland. The star Belarusian has declined to attend open news conferences at the tournament since last week for her mental well-being after a series of political questions.
Rybakina, the former junior champion, has yet to make a significant impact at the elite level. Still, she does have the experience of winning two Grand Slams as a qualifier and will look to build on her 5-0 start in the group stage here. The 24-year-old, who plays in the Bacalar Group alongside Sabalenka and Ons Jabeur, was unimpressed with the weather conditions in Cancun and took a sarcastic dig at the event’s organizers on social media.
The weather in Cancun has caused many problems for the players, who have been forced to use hotel courts as makeshift practice courts. One of those courts was used by Rybakina for her practice session, but the Russian wasn’t impressed with the court and made a sarcastic comment on Instagram about how it felt like she was practicing on an airport runway. The resumption of the Sabalenka vs Rybakina match is scheduled for Friday at 3 p.m. local time. The rest of the matches in the same group are also postponed and will be played on Saturday.